This is Nottingham | 19Jul2008 | Unknown =


Maria Volkova's voice quivers as she recalls the Holodomor. As a six-year-old child, she survived the Ukrainian famine by eating dandelion roots, pumpkin flowers and even rats.

Maria, 82, who has lived in Wollaton for the past nine years, spoke of the famine which robbed her of her childhood, claimed the lives of her baby sister and two young cousins and saw her father branded a traitor and taken away to Siberia.

On her sixth birthday, she shared a feast of soup made out of pumpkin flowers at a party with children who had swollen bellies due to malnutrition.

During the Holodomor -- often translated as "to inflict death by hunger" -- children at school had lessons on how to collect grubs in exchange for grain.

The famine of 1932-33 was long denied by the Soviet Union, but most historians today agree with the Ukrainians that it was an act of genocide. But this has not been recognised by many governments in the world.

Maria said she was "was one of the lucky few who survived". Three million children are estimated to have died out of the seven to ten million believed to perished in the famine.

"We had no meat, so in the winter, we resorted to catching rats," she said. "At school, we were given a bucket and we girls would flush the rodents out. The boys would then catch them and we would have a feast," she said

Maria was one of several survivors of the Holodomor who took part in Keep the Flame Alive, a campaign to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Ukraine's famine-genocide at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Mansfield Road on July 2, 2008.

Food was already scarce when Stalin's policy of collectivisation saw farms seized and food sent to feed people in the factories.

Desperate to put food in his children's stomachs, Maria's father bought a bag of grain on the black market.

It was enough for the Communists to raid the house one night in 1930. A terrified Maria watched as her father was branded a traitor for hoarding food and arrested.

His wife walked 90km to visit him in prison before he was sent to work in Siberia. He was never seen again.

Maria, like all children whose parents had been taken away, had to wear signs saying "children of traitors".

Of the 28 children in Maria's school class that autumn, only 12 survived the winter. The rest had succumbed to the famine.

The family endured more pain when Maria's aunties and cousins were also sent to the work camps in Siberia.

Maria said: "During the collectivisation, they took everything, including my aunties' last horse. The head of the collective farm gave the horse to his son. The son was riding it and so she went to the stables and took it back.

"That night the Communists came and took the auntie and all of her family save two of her children and deported them all to Siberia.

"My mother had eight sisters who were also all deported. Afterwards we had word she was still alive and she wanted the children to go and live with her.

"They were taken by train and were reunited, but they only lived for six months."

At Nottingham's Ukrainian Cultural Centre, Maria is able to relax and feel at home. She left Ukraine when her daughter married an Englishman and she moved to Nottingham. She has been going to the centre ever since.

Around 200 people gathered at the event organised by the Ukrainian World Congress and the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain to remember the victims.

Ukraine today says the famine was an act of genocide orchestrated by Stalin.

The torch remembering its victims was carried by president of the Ukrainian World Congress, Askold Lozynskyj, and Ukraine ambassador Vladyslav Rohovyi.

Guests included Nottingham East MP John Heppell who has vowed to campaign for recognition of the Holodomor as an act of genocide.

He said: "We can see that this was not just a crime against Ukraine, but a crime against humanity and I find it impossible to see that as anything other than genocide."

A national commemorative event will be held on November 22, 2008 in London.